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Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation
Weekly Musings December 2003
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Friday, December 5, 2003

G-d, lets make a deal. You let me win tonights $11 million Powerball jackpot, and Ill donate half the proceeds (after taxes) to charity. Dont trust me to deliver on my end of the deal? Fine, Let me win half and you spend your 5.5 mil on whatever you want.
Sound familiar? Who hasnt fantasised of a trouble-free life sipping something cold and long without a care or worry flapping across the breeze? Why doesnt G-d just put up and let me have an easy life for a while, for a change.
 
Yaakov left home (Israel) and traveled to Choron.
Home was easy, home was secure; parents, family, friends, spiritually rewarding and emotionally comforting.
Choron was a snake-pit peopled by exaggerated characters like Lavan, who would cheat you as quick as hire you. Choron means abandon Yeshiva life and enter the business hurly burly.
But Yaakov went.
Choron also held the future. Wives, children, the once and future dynasty.
Had Yaakov never left home to dirty his shoe-leather in the dust of the big wide world he would have no chance of ever fulfilling his destiny. When things are too comfortable nothing ever gets done (and no, Y. Im not specifically referring to the Public Service).
 
OK, that may be why Hashem enjoys himself watching us struggle, but note when exactly Yaacov left. After years spent nestling in his Fathers shade. Hed finished an apprenticeship in spirituality. Hed had his education and laid down reserves of faith and strength to nurture him through the struggle years. Only post-this could he travel to Choron.
As adults we may sometimes pine for the easy times while simultaneously welcoming the opportunities that challenge may bring, but children need all the protection and security we can provide. Wed never toss a kid out of home to get a job, why toss one into an environment of spiritual vulnerability? Theyll have plenty of meetings with the Lavans on their own life-journey to Choron, but while theyre still safe at home, provide them with a true education.
 
Oh, one more thing. In order to win the lottery, youve got to buy a ticket. That ticket is Torah and Mitzvos.

Friday, December 12, 2003
 
Hatred is irrational.
A stranger walks in, your eyes meet; you dont know his name, nationality, employment history or preferred language, but with a chilling certainty you know that you despise him. Upon being formally introduced you are comforted to realise that your instincts were spot on; every meeting with your nemesis only serves to further confirm your initial impression- the guy really is loathsome.
Dispassionate analysis would show that the dislike comes first. No one wishes to seem irrational, so we subconsciously seek evidence to reaffirm our prejudices.
 
Why the Jews
1940. Berlin. A gang of Nazis surround an elderly Jew. Alright Jewboy, who caused the war?
He might be scared, but he isnt stupid. The Jews, and after a brief pause and the motorcyclist.
They dont get it. Why the motorcyclists?
Why the Jews?
 
Try to explain the phenomenon of Anti-Semitism
Jew hatred is the one constant of history. Jews are rich exploiters conniving with each other, contrasts with Jews are lice infested vermin, squabbling among the squalor.  Neither justifies the persecution, but then again, the hatred came first, the rationale is just an excuse.
Building a security fence, targeted assassinations, settlements activity, do these cause terrorism? Clearly not: the first two are in response to terror, while the PLO charter calling for Israels total destruction predates the territorial liberation of the 6-day war.
 
The true cause of Jew hatred can only be explained by the Torah reading of tomorrow; Esav hates Yaacov. Not for what he did- but for who he is.
Unpalatable as the knowledge may seem, our enemies need no excuse to despise us. Conversely, surrendering to their demands doesnt prevent hatred, it encourages it.
And so, why bother cowering? I cant stop the hoons from yelling Bloody Jew! as they shoot past me on Nepean Highway, but theyre sure not going to stop me walking down the road, head held high and dressed like a Jew.
Yaakov sends a message to Esav, Im coming home, Ive been keeping firm to my faith, and, you can hate me, you can attack me, but Im not changing
Faced with this specter of Jewish pride and determination, Esav ducked. He ran straight at Yaakov, grabbed him and kissed him. That embrace, for those few seconds, was sincere.
By standing up to irrational enmity and reaffirming our righteousness and self-belief, sometimes even the Esavs forget to hate and momentarily embrace us and our reality.

Friday, December 19 2003

 
The old joke Judaism can be summed up in ten words; They tried to kill us. We won. Lets eat doesnt work for Chanuka. We delight, ignite and praise the Lord each night but dont feast.
 
You gotta eat to live.
Bread and water are necessities of existence. Wine is a luxury, summonsed for special occasions, sipped and supped and subject for snobbish conversations. Oilwell oil is different; man may not live by bread alone but certainly cannot live by oil alone. Oil by itself is inedible, but in combination with others, as a condiment, then oil comes into its own.
 
During the 67 Sinai campaign, it is related that some poetic-minded graffitist scrawled a message down the side of a burned-out Egyptian tank: Oil and Chicken Soup Dont Mix.
 
Oil doesnt mix with anything. It floats serenely on top, untouched and unaffected by any physical contaminant. In Chassidic thought oil is said to represent the deepest, most mystical insights of Torah. It influences all foods with which it is mixed and, when lit, blazes forth illuminating its surroundings
The Greek tried to render our oils impure in an attempt to impose on us their rationalistic viewpoint. Their high-sounding slogans of equality and reason are in direct counter distinction to our supra-rational mode of thinking. They were trying to demonstrate that oil remains oil, unaffected by any illogical rules of ritual purity, and similarly the Torah is just another system of logic-based jurisprudence and not a mystically inclined system of touching the divine.
By going to war to preserve our traditions and beliefs and by refusing to light their impure oil we delivered a resounding rejection to the Greeks and their life-style. We believe. We believe in a G-d who operates above nature and we refuse to be sidetracked from His system.
 
On Chanukah we express our beliefs by lighting oil Menorahs, rejoicing and celebrating our freedoms. All other festivals are celebrated in banquet, but Chanuka, the celebration of spirituality, needs no such compromise with physicality.
For 8 days of lights we float on the fluid surface of reality, unaffected by our surroundings but affecting all we encounter.
 

Friday, December 26 2003

Two old ladies meet up after a hiatus of 50 years.
You wouldnt believe it, one later recounted to a grandchild, but Millie swore that I didnt look a day older than when shed seen me last!
What did you say to her?
I lied too.
 
This week we read how, 22 years after being sold down to Egypt, Yosef is reunited with his brothers but this time under much reversed circumstances. They who had mistreated him, abandoned him in a snake-infested pit before ultimately selling him into captivity, were now cast as supplicants begging for famine relief, while Yosef was now the ruler of the Egyptian empire.

And Yosef recognised his brothers and they did not recognise him.
The last time theyd seen Yosef was as a callow youth barely 17 years old, setting off into slavery; now he was a man, a leader, surrounded by lackeys and brocaded in regal finery. Was the change in his circumstances the reason they didnt identify him? Was it the clothes? Was it the beard (parenthetically, allow me to state for the record my deeply held belief that men look better in beards).
d): None of the above.
Over time people change, and develop. Personalities progress and ones character evolves. Barring radical plastic surgery however, most of us remain relatively similar physically and facially throughout our lives.
The brothers were confused, not because Yosef was unidentifiable, but because they werent expecting him to look as he did.
The sons of Yaakov were shepherds. Pasturing sheep is not the most labour-intensive of occupations. Plenty of time left for prayer, solitary meditations and communing with ones maker. They did not recognise him because the worldly nobleman they were encountering, beset and besieged by the cares of the entire world existed on a plane so far removed from their more humdrum existence. From their perspective, this could be no brother of theirs.
But he was.
To walk with kings and be personally unaffected, to spend ones day entwined in the machinations of state but remain the son of Yaakov, this was an attainment that the other brothers simply could not envision. Yosef the dutiful son, the shepherd boy sold into slavery, was still the same Yosef ensconced in Pharaohs palace, untarnished by all he had encountered.
And of all the brothers, it was Yosef who scaled the greatest of spiritual heights, who through his foresight saved the world from famine and whose children are constantly invoked as the ideal model for Jewish children throughout history.
 
Who among us has not on occasioned yearned for a simpler life? Downscale, withdraw from the rat-race, retire to the farm and relax.
Dont do it. Dont cop out on life.
It is precisely through facing up to the world, taking on reality on her terms, living as a proud Jew and ultimately bringing goodness, kindness and spirituality to the daily grind that we make a difference to the world we live in, to our families, loved ones and not least importantly; we fulfill ourselves.

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